Thursday, July 31, 2014

An interview with Helen Dehner

This week we get a glimpse of Helen Dehner's beautiful life and writing.

helen in Barcelona.jpg

Tell me a little about you, what you do for a living, your educational background, your family (and pets), the place where you live.

Whew!  Here we go!  I am the oldest of three daughters, born in 1941 a few months before Pearl Harbor.  I was raised in Caseyville, Illinois ~ just across the river from St. Louis, Missouri.  Caseyville was, and still is, very small.  A town where everyone knows your name, your story, your business.  In many ways my childhood was idyllic.  Great friends, Girl Scouts, band and choir.  I was introduced to the flute when I was nine, performed in a small vocal group during my teens.  I also directed the Junior Choir in our small church.  During hot, humid summers I spent hours with my maternal grandparents .. helping with farm chores.  Complaining (silently) as I herded cows to pasture, slopped the pigs, fed hay to  horses, weeded, harvested corn, tomatoes, peas, potatoes, etc.  My father died the summer I turned sixteen.  It was sudden, tragic and life-altering. My mother remarried five years later to an amazing man twenty-five years her senior.  Fred lived to the ripe old age of ninety-seven.  He was a great husband and stepfather.     

After graduating from high school I enrolled in a private two year college all set to  become an elementary school teacher.  Well, you know what they say about best laid plans ~ the degree was put on hold when I married my high school sweetheart.  Three sons followed  ~ in rapid succession.  My husband continued his education, graduating from medical school the summer our boys turned 4, 5, and 6.  Our  daughter was born the following year.  

Sadly, after twenty-two years our marriage ended.  Happily, we have remained close ~ enjoying holidays and special events as a blended family ~ his wife, their two daughters, our four children and two grandchildren. By this time we had all migrated to Minneapolis.  I returned to school after the divorce and within two years accepted a position in a large travel agency.  I remained with the agency  for the next eighteen years!  During those years I traveled the world, literally.  I was fortunate to have had so many wonderful travel adventures.

I have lived in seven States:  Illinois, Missouri, Maryland, Minnesota, Georgia, Florida and Oregon.  Today I call Bend, Oregon home.  Bend is in Central Oregon on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain Range. Bend’s climate is considered high desert, with lots of sun, scant rain, breath-taking scenery and four seasons – none of them extreme.  We have beautiful snow covered mountains year round, fresh air in abundance, the best water in the world, and every outdoor sport imaginable.  A paradise! 

 What got you started with writing poetry?

I wrote a bit growing up and during high school/college.  I began writing in earnest in 2002 ~ the year I brought my mother to live with me.  She had Alzheimer’s disease and Lewy Body dementia (mid-stage) ~ writing helped to balance me.  I was privileged to care for my mother the last five years of her life.  Years filled with joy, sadness, humor, frustration, love and fear ~ could there be any greater inspiration?  I continued writing after her death in 2007 and in 2008 discovered the wonderful world of blogging … the rest is history.    

I love looking at the photos on your blog from the places you’ve been to. Have you ever been to a literary destination? If not, is there a specific one you’d like to visit? 

During many trips to England I’ve visited the Dickens Museum, Jane Austen’s home in Hampshire, Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-on-Avon, Wordsworth’s home in the Lake District and the Brontë home in Yorkshire.  I thoroughly enjoy poking about in libraries, old churches and museums, I can get lost for hours on end.  Our family spent countless weekends at the Smithsonian during the two years we lived just outside Washington DC.  
 I would love to visit Ernest Hemingway’s home in Key West, Thomas Wolfe’s home in Asheville, Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst.      

Do you collect souvenirs from the places you visit? What are they?

I have carted too many souvenirs home over the years ~ coasters, calendars, books, small paintings, candles, CDs, DVDs ~ most of them gifts for friends and family.  I do have a brass candlestick holder I found in a dusty, dark antique shop in London that I cherish. 

Being a woman who enjoys traveling, you’re probably familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s quote: ‘Fish and visitors smell after three days.” (Believe me, we use it a lot here, I had no idea it was his until I searched the Internet for the origins of the saying to include in this interview!) Which three living or dead poets/writers would you like to risk and have over for longer than 3 days? 

In all candor, I think of myself as a musician who dabbles in poetry.  Leonard Cohen, Jim Morrison and Joni Mitchell are three poet/song writers I seriously admire.  Three days, three months, three years ~ I could never get enough of them.  Joni Mitchell’s lyrics are incredibly poetical, her voice is magic, she has done it all ~ folk, jazz, pop!  Jim Morrison was a complicated genius, so talented ~ gone too soon.  I have a serious crush on Leonard Cohen who is not much older than me, unattached (as far as I know) and sexier than any man I can think of!!  I melt when I listen to his music, period!  Are you reading this, Leonard?  

Do you follow any writing ritual?

No rituals.  I use a PC in my loft / office.  I keep a notebook on the table next to my bed as I sometimes ‘dream’ poems.  I love responding to all sorts of challenges ~ art, form, photography, topic.  I need peace and quiet when I write, any time of the day will do.  I also  ‘compose’ poems during three mile daily walks .. get home as fast as possible and make a mad dash for the computer!    

Do you keep a traveling record?

I do not journal during trips.  Photos tell the stories, keep memories alive, inspire me and my writing.  

Is there a poem you wrote you would like more people to have read? 

I wrote these poems during the last two years of my Mother’s life ….  

:: I’m Still Here  

Though you can’t remember
Without cues from the past
Though you can’t recall
Dreams and plans for life
Though you live in your own world
Within a shrinking border
I’m still here to guide you through, I’m still here.
Loved ones still remember
All the magic that you cast
Sharing strength and wisdom
With everyone you touched
Though you live in your own world
Within a shrinking border
I’m still here to guide you through, I’m still here.
The key to life is memories
Long ago, real and imagined
A smile on your face the light in your eyes
Remind me it’s not time for our goodbyes
Though you live in your own world
Within a shrinking border
I‘m still here to guide you through, I’m still here.

 :: The Journey to Dinner

I watch 
as their day comes to a close
the continuous shuffling of bodies and souls
some of them walking unaided
some of them walking assisted
some of them being pushed in chairs
familiar journey to a room
most of them can't recall from day to day
I wonder 
will he or she be there the next time I visit
 I've grown so fond of them all

If you could not express your feelings & thoughts through the medium of poetry, what other medium would you choose?

Music, music, music. I would put more energy into singing and playing that flute of mine! Actually, Bend has a ‘senior citizen’ orchestra and choral group.  I still have time!

Is there a topic you still haven’t covered in a poem and would like to try in the near future?

I’ve covered death, war, love, passion, sadness, euphoria, politics, family, anger, humor ~ I think the only topic left is religion ~ which I won’t do!  Smiles.

I’m a disaster at rhyming, I have given up trying it, definitely not my thing. I’ve left you a comment once, saying how much I liked your rhyming because it’s simple and carries a playful tone (to me). Do you ever struggle with writing? Is there something you feel like you can’t write? I mean, form poetry, poems about war, etc?

You know Kenia, my poems gravitate between goofiness and gravitas. I enjoy rhyme, I also enjoy free form. I don’t have a style, nothing is predictable about my poetry. I struggle with sonnets and octaves and pantoums ~ but I’m willing to try anything once!

Will you please leave us a piece of personal inspiration, a quote, song or poem you always feel good about?

At the bottom of Poetry Matters is a quote from Gail Godwin that has inspired me for ages: 

“There are two kinds of people. One kind, you can just tell by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more surprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing.  They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard against congealing.” 

Thank you again Helen, for your time and kindness. It was really great to talk to you. 


Jim said...

Thank you Kenia, thank you Helen, for this lovely infomercial. Helen, I identify with you in more ways than you can imagine. Is that your scooter? I had a Vespa for eight years, I got it for a second 'car' when I was in the army.

I love reading your poetry, you and the others here are inspiration for my attempts at writing. Teachers of high caliber and so very forgiving of me. THANK YOU.
BTW, not to brag, but we stayed in Key West two nights for almost three days of fun this April before our trans-Atlantic cruise. I loved K.W. and it's locals! We spent a morning at the Hemingway home, I probably was an hour in his study (over the garage, now garden 'shed').

Magaly Guerrero said...

Helen, reading about your life will keep the congealing away for at least three more days. I love the liveliness of your words (in poetry and in this narrative). I can hear the fun and the laughter that lives in you, and that makes me want to dance to your poetry--yep, the music sparkles out of you.

Feeling someone slipping away is a great inspiration for poetry, and poetry a great comfort to help keep things together. I bet your mom looks at you from above, whispering to other angels, "I'm proud of my girl."

Thanks so much for letting us glimpse into your life, Helen. And Kenia, you are a darling for guiding us through the trip. ♥

Kerry O'Connor said...

This is such an interesting conversation! It has left me feeling so inspired and reminded me once again how fortunate I am to have met such amazing people through the world of poetry.
Thank you for sharing your story, Helen, and for the advice against congealing. I'm with you on the charisma of Leonard Cohen, and felt so moved by your poems.
Thank you, Kenia, for your thoughtful questions.

Susan said...

Love reading your poetry, Helen, and these two are no exception. I love that you have been a travel agent! Thanks to you both for this visit together.

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Ladies, what a wonderfully entertaining and upbeat interview! I totally enjoyed it. Helen, your wheels are seriously cool! You have lived and are living an amazing life. Yay for all the places you've seen, and bless you for caring for your mother in her final years. I LOVE "I'm Still Here"! I'm a Joni Mitchell fan too. Lots to love in this interview, awesome work, Helen and Kenia.

Helen said...

Big disclaimer! The photo of me was snapped in April ~~ on a street in Barcelona. The scooter became a prop!

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susie Clevenger said...

Thanks Kenia for asking such imaginative questions and Helen for your beautiful responses. I can identify with the poems you wrote about your mother and those precious aging souls. My mother had Alzheimer's. It was the longest goodbye of my life. I feel so thankful to be able to know more about you.

Helen said...

Just want to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who read Kenia's most thought-provoking interview. She is a joy ...

We have had a death in our family ... Will not be able to post for a while. Again, many thanks .. Toads Rock!

Fireblossom said...

I love that quote from Gail Godwin. I was struck by it the first time i read it, in whatever book it's from. I used to read her a lot. (Is she still around, I wonder?)

Nice to have the chance to read all about Helen!

Marian said...

i just love this interview! thanks so much to both of you... and Helen, thank you for sharing glimpses of YOU. now, let's go have a cup of tea and a looonnngg conversation! xo

Anonymous said...

Glad to get to know you better, Helen - your pens are both tender and loving.

Kenia, great interview, as always.

~ M

Lydia said...

I have long been a fan of Helen's writing and also of her enthusiastic comments. She is not only a fine writer, but a most excellent human being and I enjoyed this interview immensely!

Ella said...

I love this interview! The quote is magical and so true~
I am thrilled to learn more about Helen-a gifted soul with the grace of seeing life with fresh eyes~

Thank you Kenia, for getting Helen to open her world to ours~